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After Graham’s Endorsement of Sotomayor, Attention Turns to Grassley, Hatch and Cornyn

With the confirmation of Supreme Court hopeful Sonia Sotomayor now a foregone conclusion, Republicans and Democrats have started playing the time-honored parlor game of guessing where the handful of wavering GOP Members will end up.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday became the fifth GOP Senator to formally endorse her nomination. He joined Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, as well as Dick Lugar (Ind.) and Mel Martinez (Fla.).

With Graham’s support in hand, all eyes are now on a small group of other Judiciary Republicans — Sens. Orrin Hatch (Utah), Chuck Grassley (Iowa) and, perhaps, John Cornyn (Texas) — who Democrats hope will throw their weight behind Sotomayor. The Judiciary Committee plans to vote Tuesday on the nomination, with the full Senate expected to confirm her later next week or the first week of August.

Hatch has often shown wide deference to presidents when it comes to their nominations to the Supreme Court and has been particularly accommodating to President Barack Obama’s nominations in general. For instance, Hatch was an early supporter of Obama’s selection of Eric Holder to become Attorney General. Hatch also voted for Sotomayor in 1998 to become a judge on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Grassley is another GOP Senator who many Republicans and Democrats believe may be inclined to defer to Obama, particularly now that Graham and five other Republicans are publicly backing her.

Democrats also hold an outside hope that Cornyn may end up backing Sotomayor. As the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and a Senator who represents Texas, Cornyn has worked to woo Latino voters.

Graham had initially emerged as one of Sotomayor’s toughest questioners during her four-day Judiciary hearings last week. But by week’s end he was praising her ability to separate her political views from her work on the 2nd Circuit.

Graham, in his Wednesday floor speech, said he believes Sotomayor is a “mainstream— jurist who “is bound by the law.— He said he was “voting for her because I find her to be well-qualified. Elections matter and those that have served beside her for years find her to be an extraordinary woman.—

Noting that retired Supreme Court Justice David Souter, whom Sotomayor would replace if confirmed, is known as a liberal judge, Graham argued that, “I think Judge Sotomayor will not be any more liberal than him.—

Responding to Sotomayor’s answer regarding how she may view a case challenging whether gun rights are “fundamental— under the law, Graham praised Sotomayor’s ability to separate her work as a judge from her own political beliefs.

“I don’t know how you’re going to come out on that case. Because I think fundamentally you’re able after all these years as a judge to embrace a right you may not want for yourself. … That is what makes you, for me, more acceptable as a judge, and not an activist. … Because an activist would be chomping at the bit to use this wonderful opportunity,— Graham said.

“You understand that America is bigger than the Bronx and bigger than South Carolina,— he added.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who voted to confirm Sotomayor to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 1998, joined Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) in opposing the nomination.

Cochran’s decision to come out against Sotomayor makes him the second Republican Senator who voted for her in 1998 to switch gears this year. Sen. Bob Bennett (R-Utah) announced last week that he would vote against her confirmation to the high court.

Sotomayor enjoyed significant bipartisan Senate support for her appointment to the New York-based federal appeals court. Seven sitting GOP Senators — Bennett, Snowe, Lugar, Collins, Judd Gregg (N.H.), Cochran and Hatch — voted in favor.